Memories of Decree 4 as Buhari’s CSO evicts reporter from Aso Rock
In an action reminiscent of the days of the dreaded Decree 4 of 1984, the Chief security Officer (CSO) attached to President Mohammadu Buhari, Bashir Abubakar yesterday ordered the expulsion and confiscation of the accreditation tag given to The Punch reporter, Lekan Adetayo, barring the journalist from covering the presidential villa.
The CSO had earlier barred State House correspondents from driving into the villa in their private cars.
But the Presidency yesterday distanced itself from the expulsion of the reporter on the orders of Buhari’s CSO.
The Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to the President, Femi Adesina, said his office was not consulted prior to the expulsion. This is another indication of a lack of cohesion in the presidency.
Responding through his twitter handle, the presidential spokesman said: “We were not consulted in the media office by the CSO before he expelled The Punch reporter.”
Stating that his boss was committed to press freedom, the spokesman added that “an amicable solution would be found to The Punch reporter matter. President Buhari does not intend to muzzle the media in any way.”
Apparently miffed by reports, considered unpalatable to the image of the current administration, Abubakar yesterday withdrew the accreditation given to Lekan Adetayo as the reporter covering the Presidential Villa for his medium. He was marched out of the State House by the Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Stare Services (OC DSS).
Adetayo was earlier grilled by the CSO for about three hours and forced to write a detailed statement of his knowledge about the content of the published stories before his accreditation tag was seized. He was later led to retrieve his working tools and other personal effects from the council chambers. The facility also serves as a press workroom.
It was further learnt that the CSO had issued a stern warning to the expelled reporter in January this year over reports on an accidental discharge from a security personnel which injured a female official of the Villa.
Adetayo, who later spoke to State House correspondents via telephone, explained that he had on Saturday and Sunday authored two stories whose content the CSO considered injurious to the president and the nation at large.
He said the CSO was particularly irked by the reports which hinted that there was a fresh anxiety over the state of health of President Buhari. The number one citizen returned to the country on March 10 this year after a 49-day medical vacation in London, United Kingdom.
On assumption of office, Buhari had ordered the restoration of a Deutsche Welle, a German radio station correspondent, Ubale Musa, expelled by security aides of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Ubale was expelled for daring to ask a visiting Chadian leader a question that was perceived to be embarrassing to the then government. The action was widely criticised by Nigerians who saw the development as a clampdown on the media in the wake of the Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
The infamous Decree No. 4, which was drafted on March 29, 1984 during the military era of Buhari was the most dreaded and repressive press law enacted in Nigeria. It was promulgated during the military regime of Major General Buhari who, at the time, did not take kindly to press criticisms.
The law was drafted to punish authors of statements and reports that exposed the Buhari administration and or its officials to ridicule or contempt. Section 1 sub-sections (i), (ii) and (iii) of the law – the most formidable section – provided that: 1. “Any person who publishes in any form, whether written or otherwise, any message, rumour, report or statement, being a message, rumour, statement or report which is false in any material particular or which brings or is calculated to bring the Federal Military Government or the Government of a State or public officer to ridicule or disrepute, shall be guilty of an offence under this Decree.”
Through the decree, two journalists of The Guardian, Tunde Thompson and Nduka Iraboh, were jailed on July 4, 1984 by a military tribunal .
Buhari’s security officials, immediately after his declaration as President-elect, barred the African Independent Television (AIT) from covering his activities until further notice. The ban was later lifted after Nigerians mounted pressure on him through the media.
The president had during his inaugural speech called on the mass media to exercise restraint in the discharge of its statutory duties. President Buhari who made this call at the Eagle Square, Abuja, immediately he was sworn in as the sixth executive President of Nigeria, maintained that the Nigerian Press was the most vibrant in Africa.